Norm Haughness

Norm Haughness of Tehachapi, a philosopher and educator, wrote a longtime column for The Californian’s sister publication, the Tehachapi News.

So this week it’s a small Texas church, with 26 people shot dead, 14 of them children, and 20 wounded. A few weeks earlier, in Las Vegas, it was 59 dead, about 500 wounded. Next week, maybe more, maybe fewer; but get ready, it’s bound to happen. America knows this, and simply waits for the next “Breaking News” report. An inevitable part of 2017 life in the United States, thanks largely to the powerful weapons marketing firm called the NRA.

Our president, currently on an escapist golfing tour of Asia, pretends guns have nothing to do with these horrors. It’s mental illness, you see, not angry men with a grudge and easy access to killing tools. Tools like the AR-15 military-style rifles that are designed to kill people. Bang bang bang bang — as fast as you can pull the trigger, your targets fall.

The Texas shooter had four guns, with 15 30-round magazines. The Vegas killer had amassed more than 20 weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Gun dealers made a “killing” of another kind with these two.

Twenty-six million more guns were added to Americans’ private armories last year. Many of these were similar to the AR-15s that the mass murderers used in Vegas and Texas. If the likelihood of another such atrocity every week or two was high a year ago, when we Americans cuddled about 290 million killing tools, it’s higher today. And it’ll be even higher next year, when some of those added weapons are certain to make the evening news.

So what’s the answer? Trump shouts “mental illness,” yet pushes to defund treatment for the mentally ill. No GOP politician is brave enough to dare introducing gun-control legislation and face being “primaried” by NRA money in his next election. Many Democratic officeholders are equally timid, for they represent districts whose voters love their weapons and who fear being disarmed, to become, as the NRA ominously warns, defenseless against all those “bad guys” out there who threaten to shoot them.

Thus fear and mass paranoia have become America’s ruling ethos, replacing in many people their former fellowship with neighbors. A country whose occupants feel they must be armed against imminent predations by their fellows is a national dog-eat-dog slum, no matter the price of its real estate. Where suspicious armed distrust and hostility rule, the joint progress and mutual toleration required to grow a healthy political system can only deteriorate.

What is to be done? The answer is simple — prevention — yet its implementation impossible, given the reality on the ground. We’ve descended into a society-wide anxiety that “forces” many millions of Americans (as they see it) to arm themselves, preferably with the most efficient people-killing weapons they can buy, against a threat largely created by their own paranoid actions. This is a situation with its own built-in intensifiers. Fear begets arms acquisitions, which others are seen to do as well, stimulating fear, begetting more gun purchases, begetting ... you get the idea. To what constructive end?

We look disdainfully at societies riven by the distrust and internecine warfare that sectarian hostilities engender — such as the Sunni/Shia antagonisms in Iraq and, in the land we used to call Palestine, between Semites who divide themselves with mutual enmity into Jews and Muslims. Yet we have entered upon a grotesquely over-armed each-against-all rancor that promises to tear our own social fabric even further. The pustules of this national malady erupt in our frequent mass murders.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, we kill about 33,000 Americans annually by gun violence. That’s 94 people a day. But these are tired old statistics, and they have none but momentary impact on anything. This toll is bound to rise as the sheer number of our guns increases daily. Hence to the key question, What is to be done? There’s no feasible answer that this observer can see. Sorry. But facts are facts, even if they’re frustrating and ugly.

President Trump says all we have to do is, basically, nothing. Let things take their course, and everything will be all right. In fact, he recently took the odd step of refusing to deny access to weapons to persons with mental problems. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), posturing on the lawn outside the small Texas church, says we must just treat these shootings the way we do destructive hurricanes: pray, clean up afterward, and have faith in tomorrow.

Any talk about guns, of course, is only “politicizing” the problem, and that’s un-American. Trump and Cruz are very influential people, with strong views. You agree with them?

Norm Haughness lives, mows weeds and worries in Tehachapi.